Google’s driverless cars must have controls, mandates California law

How legislators would deal with driverless cars has been up in the air for some time. As – somewhat – expected though, it looks like the notion of accountability is a difficult one, so Californian legislators have opted to make it mandatory for all vehicles, whether they come with drivers or not, to have fitted manual controls. That means Google’s pipedream of the little bubble cars with just a screen and a go button will have to have a steering wheel and pedals set fitted. At least in California.

Set to come into effect in mid-September, according to Dezeen, the law states that it must be possible for a human driver to be able to take control at any time. That means they need to be able to steer the vehicle and affect its speed. What’s worse, is that Google’s driverless cars are based out of its California HQ, so that means that any road testing that takes place out of the facility will need those extra controls.

Google spokeswoman Courtney Hohne said of the recent news, that Google would of course comply, though it would only add temporary systems: “With these additions, our safety drivers can test the self-driving features, while having the ability to take control of the vehicle if necessary.”

Around 100 vehicles with these temporary controls will be set up and constructed over the next couple of months, with plans to further test the autonomous vehicles over the next couple of years on private roads. From there, public testing is likely to take place.

These types of manual input devices however, are already fitted in Google’s other driverless cars, since they’re simply modified versions of already available vehicles. However, the bubble cars will need some serious work. Or they’ll need to be tested elsewhere, potentially in the UK, since ministers here have been very forthcoming about adopting the technology. Perhaps instead of waiting two years to see much more in terms of true autonomous (IE. lacking controls) vehicles, we’ll see Google move some of its developments to British shores.


The Google bubble cars that are currently being manufactured, have some unique features, like an all plastic windscreen, foam bumpers with no crumple zones and a maximum speed limit of 25 miles per hour. However, we did recently learnt that Google had begun programming its automated vehicles to exceed local speed limits by up to 10 miles per hour if that makes it more capable of matching the speeds of the other vehicles around it, since it was discovered through extensive research, that while sticking to the speed limit is important for safety, having drastic differences in speed between different vehicles can have much more of a detrimental affect on the safety of passengers.

The question remains however, how that would work if it came to charging someone over speeding. Would that lead to driving bans and points on your license, when you didn’t make the decision to break the limit, the car did? It’s an interesting legal and moral quandry.

Image source: Google

    Jon Martindale

    Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.

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